The smart grid revolution


Over the past quarter the news in the United States, as may be expected with the prospect of stimulus funding, has been very much dominated by smart grids. Barely a day has gone by without a new release trumpeting a smart grid project. Smart metering has become the smart grid, and so has almost every grid-related project.

But let’s slow down and take a breath! While the deadline for applications for the smart grid stimulus funding may have come and gone, smart grids are still very much in their infancy. Smart metering is one of the constructs, but so are the many other elements for power monitoring and management, and it is the integration of some or all of these with the utility’s internal systems that will make the grid smart.

Grids are starting to become smart but there is still a long way to go. During the coming years smart grids will continue to evolve as other elements are brought or come on-grid, such as the larger and more numerous sources of renewables, the electric and hybrid electric vehicles, and widespread home area networking.

And they will continue evolving. Like the new computer or mobile phone that within months will likely be outdated as it is replaced by a newer generation model, so too grid technologies – and the smart grid – are not simply going to stop evolving at some point 10, 20 or 50 years hence. In fact the future evolution of the grid may be even greater than we are seeing now, if the prospect of wireless electricity, demonstrated at a recent TEDGlobal conference, is anything to go by. At present the technology operates on the scale of a room and it is expected to be able to increase it up to about the scale of a house, but beyond that, time will tell…

But coming back to the present, like not putting off the new computer or mobile phone purchase for the newer model in the future, as is argued very eloquently in these pages the move to the smart grid using today’s technologies also cannot be put off.

But let’s be clear that it is but the start of a long – and exciting – journey with only some of the route marks clear at this point in time.

Jonathan Spencer Jones Editor North and South America